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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Responsible robots, AI and the future of humanity

Photo: Andrew Wade
"As automation and artificial intelligence advance, what are the ethical implications for humanity?" summarizes Andrew Wade, Senior reporter.

Earl er this week I came across an infographic published by tech website Futurism. It’s based on the predictions of Ray Kurzweil, an American computer scientist and author who has written extensively about artificial intelligence. 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In his book The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil outlines a future of ever expanding computing power and automation, where robots and AI become increasingly embedded in our lives.

The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

Kurzweil is now director of Engineering at Google, where investment in AI and robotics has been relentless. The singularity that the title of his book refers to is the point in the future where AI surpasses humanity as the most capable form of intelligence on the planet. What happens then is a point of much speculation, and has been the premise for a wealth of dystopian science fiction. Will AI be a benevolent force, helping humanity achieve things never before imagined? Or will it exploit its dominance over the lesser intelligence and crush us like ants? 

According to Kurzweil, the singularity will happen about halfway through this century. But before the inevitable enslavement/nuclear destruction by our machine overlords, we have perhaps a more immediate issue to contend with, and one that could help shape our future relationship with AI. Robots are becoming noticeably more pervasive in society, and automation is one of the key trends of our times. And while true artificial intelligence may still be some way off yet, autonomous machines are already here and influencing our interactions with technology.

Robotics and autonomous systems have been identified by the government as one of the Eight Great Technologies - areas of rapid innovation where the UK has an opportunity to lead. But according to robotics expert Prof Noel Sharkey, the amount being invested by the government pales in comparison to what tech giants like Google are doing. Sharkey was speaking at the launch of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics (FRR), a new multidisciplinary group of technology academics. Its aim is to engage policy makers and the public in a conversation about robotics and humanity’s role in its development.

Increasing automation has a range of complex social and ethical implications. Robots have applications across virtually every aspect of our lives, from healthcare and education, to farming, construction, policing, transport and service. One of the areas Sharkey and his colleagues from the FRR spoke extensively about is care. Japan, with its ageing population, dearth of migrant workers, and proclivity for technology, is investing billions in robotics for elderly care. These care robots cover a variety of functions, from companionship robots that replicate pets, to a robot ‘bear’ that assists in hoisting and lifting.

While these innovations undoubtedly carry some benefits, they also raise some ethical questions. If granddad is being looked after by a robot, does that mean we can just stay at home watching Netflix and not visit? If grandma has just got out of bed in her nightie, should a camera-equipped carebot be able to enter her room unannounced?


Additional resources 
The Singularity Is Near Movie Trailer 

The Singularity is Near » Homepage

Source: The Engineer (blog) and The Singularity Is Near (The Movie) Channel (YouTube)